Torridon – the art of adventure photography part 3

We were out again early this morning.  The day looked like this:

  • 6:30 meet in hotel lobby, out to location
  • 9h return for breakfast
  • we then had time for washing/packing up (we needed to check out of the hotel room)
  • 11h image critique
  • followed by lunch and departure.

Bruce took us to a new location, near Shieldaig (upper Loch Torridon), overlooking water, with quite a steep hill rising up from the shoreline of Loch Torridon.  My first reaction was to think: ‘Why did he take us here?  Those trees are in the way!’  I realised I was a bit disgruntled about this, and wandered around at first not finding anything I could imagine as an image.  I find I often do this: pace up and down looking for an angle, a view, something that is unusual and stimulating that will grab me.  But I wasn’t finding it on this occasion.  I went down the hill and to the right to avoid the trees, but the view just felt bland – another set of grey mountains with water in front, so very typically postcard Scottish, and at that moment for me, completely boring.  So I headed left, nearer to the shore, and this brought me closer to the trees.  I was trying to look through them at the view behind, to see if there was any point in climbing up the hill again and looking over the trees.  Nothing.  As I was stumbling about looking through the trees and muttering away to myself in frustration, I suddenly realised that looking through the trees was just what I ought to be doing.  I found myself facing two trees that were distinct and separate from the rest (i.e. the branches were not intertwined).  They were also leaning left, which I liked: we often think that moving right ‘leads the eye in’ (see for example, Ken Rockwell’s stair images entitled ‘McCloud, California’ about 3/4 down the page; he shows the image facing both ways), and many of my photographs reflect this.  But I think the orientation to the right only works because we read left to right, whereas for readers of, for example, Hebrew and Arabic, this doesn’t necessarily make sense, and given my academic research topics, I felt this spoke to me on that level too.  The mountains across the loch formed a ‘v’ just in the middle of the image, balancing the ‘v’ formed by the tips of the trees in the foreground – and so this is the image that I came up with (note that, following yesterday’s post about cropping, this is very slightly cropped at the sides, but otherwise works in the 35mm format):



This was my second image of the day, and after taking it I thought, ‘well, it won’t get any better than this, I should stop now…’ – but I didn’t!  After my initial disgruntlement and frustration, I felt tremendously moved by the beauty of the light, and began to see all sorts of other patterns:



The trees on either side seem to me to be reaching towards each other, forming an upside-down ‘v’, almost like a classic child’s drawing of a house.  The other trees in the centre are smaller, almost as if they are in the ‘house’.  Bruce later pointed to the four ‘quarters’ in the image that balance each other – I hadn’t consciously seen this, but he’s right, of course. By this stage, I was elated – I realised that even if the images on the tiny screen on the camera had been out-of-focus, I had seen something I thought was special.  It’s an interesting issue: here I was, trying to capture an image on a camera not knowing if it would work, but knowing also that even if it didn’t, I would remember this image without the camera’s help.  It’s a way of internal visualisation that I will want to explore further at some point, perhaps here.

Bruce came over to me a while later, once I was on the shore line, wrestling with another image, of which more in a moment.  He looked at the first of these two images on my screen, and was delighted for me, exclaiming: ‘This is the kind of photograph I always want to take and I never manage it.’  Now although I’m sure that’s not really true, it gives me the opportunity to reiterate something about Bruce: I hope I’ve already communicated something of Bruce’s genius with imagery – but he’s also a genuinely warm and generous person.  This is something I felt again and again over the weekend, and although I point to this in a context of his praising my image, I don’t do so to show off (well, ok, maybe I do just a little bit…!), but to say that I saw this repeatedly in his interactions with all the other participants.  If you’re thinking of going on a course like this, Bruce will make you feel really welcome, and it will be an affirming and uplifting experience – guaranteed!

The image I was struggling with when Bruce came over to me is this one:



Or rather, this is what it became.  I felt I wasn’t capturing the mountain behind the first one, which, especially on the right side, looked in part as if it was a shadow of the foreground mountain, but Bruce assured me I was on the right lines.  I was sure this could be cropped – it had lots of sky that wasn’t ‘doing’ anything, but I felt I wasn’t really getting the detail in the more distant mountains that I wanted.  I knew I wanted this to be black and white, but needed somehow to make that ‘shadow’ appear in order to provide the continuous line of the second mountain that I could so clearly see.  Once back at the hotel, I offered this along with the previous two images for critique.  From this session, and Bruce’s earlier comments, I was reminded of the complete inadequacy of the screen on the back of the camera, even when zooming in on the image, because the shadow is clearly there, but was barely visible on the camera’s screen.  And the lesson is: trust that most of what you can see in the landscape can be seen by the camera, even if it sees it quite differently (note to self: I never doubted this kind of thing with film, so the screen is actually hindering me here!  In a different context over the weekend, Bruce mentioned photographers he knows who tape over the screen on their digital cameras and just trust their instincts).  In Photoshop, I cropped this down, developed the tones just a fraction, and turned it into a black and white image.

After lunch, we all got ready to depart.  Before we did, Bruce gave each of us a large brown envelope – without saying more than that ‘it doesn’t contain banknotes’, he just made sure everyone had one.  It was only when I arrived home that I found out what was in it… but I’ll leave the discussion of that for the fourth post about this trip, which I intend to write in a couple of days time, after I’ve had a little more mental space to digest what I’ve learnt, what the experience did for me, and so on.  However, I hope you’ve gathered that I have had a magical weekend, in the company of and under the guidance of a tremendously creative, passionate and generous teacher and fellow traveller, and accompanied by five other participants who brought light (in all ways!), energy and laughter to the creative process.  Many of their images were fantastic too, and I found myself thinking tonight how nice it would be to have a little online gallery somewhere with one of each of our images, even if that is somewhat impractical.

P.S. I did, of course, have a film camera with me (guess which one!), but found that I only used it a couple of times.  I think I was concentrating too much on using the digital camera in order to make images that could be critiqued.  Insha’allah I’ll be back to Torridon with a film camera to make many more images.


6 thoughts on “Torridon – the art of adventure photography part 3

  1. Mabel

    The trees look really good Michael!
    I think the moon pic is one of your best images, especially with your crop- – I hadnt seen it properly till now. very nice indeed.

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